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Tragic Epigraphy: Euripides’ Archelaus and IG I3 117

Andrea Giannotti

Durham University

In this paper, I examine the relationship between Athenian tragedy and the City Dionysia’s pre-play ceremonies as represented in epigraphic sources, using IG I3 117 and Euripides’ Archelaus as a case study. The former is an inscription of 407/6 BC which honors the Macedonian King for having let the Athenian navy be built in his territory, but there is no mention of the award of a crown in the theatre — as was given to Thrasyboulus of Calydon (for having killed the oligarch Phrynicus) just two years before (IG I3 102); the latter is a fragmentary and obscure homonymous tragedy that Euripides dedicated to the Macedonian king, seemingly produced in 406 BC: Archelaus fr. 241 Kn., which records the sentence ἐγὼ δὲ τὸν σὸν κρᾶτ’ ἀναστέψαι θέλω, ‘I want to crown your head’, is critical. Scholars have often discussed tragic politics (e.g. Saïd 1998) and how Athenian playwrights re-elaborated political ideas through tragedy: however, they have not considered epigraphic material and tragedy as comparative sources of political activity. I demonstrate that IG I3 117 and Euripides’ Archelaus offer a rich source of political evidence on Archelaus when considered in tandem: there is a hidden debate on his crowning which I reveal and analyze in this paper.

My inquiry contextualizes the two testimonies. In the pre-play proclamations of honors, which took place in the orchestra, the Athenian government praised the benefactors of the city with a crown. Archelaus was honored for his significant contribution to Athens’ success against Sparta at Arginusae: though one might expect that his honors were celebrated in front of all the Greeks in the theatre, this did not happen. As Lambert says, honorific decrees were ‘monumentalised diplomacy’ (2006, 117) in order both to encourage other people to emulate the honorands and to maintain the great image of the city, not the democracy, in Greece: therefore, it remains puzzling that ‘democratic’ crowns/honors were not conferred on Archelaus, and that the supposed ‘democratic expression’ of the ceremony was not enacted on this important occasion. It is here that attention should be paid to the Euripidean tragic fragment, fr. 241 Kn. (contemporary to IG I3 117): it appears that Euripides, in his oft-neglected tragedy, was staging a theatrical proclamation of honors to Archelaus. Not by chance is Archelaus called εὐγενὴς ἀνὴρ (fr. 242 Kn.) by Euripides, similarly to [ἀν-ὲρ ἀγαθὸς] in IG I3 117 (ll. 25-6). Was the playwright compensating for the negligence of his government by conferring a crown — though fictional — to King Archelaus within his play? Moreover, a contextualization of Euripides’ tragedy is crucial: if it is correct that the Archelaus was performed in Macedonia, in front of the King and his court, this would be comparable to a ‘dramatic’ proclamation of Athenian honors outside Athens, in the Macedonian theatre. I then argue that Euripides’ references to the pre-play ceremonies were quite common: drawing on a number of parallels from the Suppliant Women (1143ff. and 1150ff.), Children of Herakles (520-81 passim), Trojan Women (568-76), and Rhesus (149-90), I demonstrate that Euripidean drama included literary allusions to the pre-play ceremonies and frequently dramatized those civic rituals. 

In comparing the epigraphic with the dramatic source, I reveal their contrasting representation of Archelaus’ political honors, and argue that the theatrical crowning of Archelaus was both an homage to the King and a critique against Athenian government’s less effusive action. Secondly, I raise the hypothesis that Athenian drama, especially Euripidean drama, constantly alluded to the pre-play ceremonies which were celebrated before the performances. Tragic texts not only built an ideological and political tension with the polis (as rightly underscored by Zeitlin 1990 and Goldhill 1987; 1990) by criticizing contemporary political views, but also by referring and re-shaping the political value of the pre-play ceremonies.

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Materiality and Literary Culture

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